It’s really, really important to communicate with professors about accommodations at the beginning of the academic term for a few reasons:
- Professors won’t provide accommodations without proper documentation from the disability services office. If you don’t show them your letter, you won’t get accommodations.
- It helps them – and you – plan ahead. Once you square things away, you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the quarter.
- Accommodations can’t be applied retroactively. For example, you might have an accommodation that allows you to take an incomplete, meaning that you haven’t met all the requirements for a course by the end of the term, but you can go back and finish later. If you’ve communicated that to the professor, it shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you don’t mention this accommodation until it’s the end of the quarter and you realize you need it, you won’t be able to get it, and you may end up failing a course.
If you’re absolutely certain you’ll take a class, you could even email the professor before your first class meets. If you have a shopping period (where you try out classes and you might drop some of them), you might want to wait until you’re sure you’ll take the class. However, if you send an email to a professor with your accommodations and then change your mind and drop the class, it’s not a huge deal.
- Make sure you have a soft copy of your accommodations letter from the disability services office
- Check the syllabus for each one of your classes. Usually, professors copy and paste a standard “if you have a disability tell me your accommodations” statement, but some professors may have specific preferences about how you communicate with them (in person or via email, soft copy or hard copy). In a larger class, you might be instructed to email a TA instead.
- Email each one of your professors or TAs (see social scripts below). In your email, you should:
- Introduce yourself
- Tell them that you have accommodations
- Let them know that you’re happy to answer any questions or meet with them to discuss accommodations
- + any questions or comments you might have
- Attach the letter!!!
- Keep an eye out for responses to these emails and make sure you follow up with professors if they have any questions
Wise Words from a Grad Student
“It might be helpful to be directly honest about what you need – you should ask for things directly and negotiate together instead of not ask for things for fear of retaliation/judgement/negative response. The best thing I had a professor ask me related to my disability was, ‘I don’t know how to do these xy things. Tell me how.’ Some neurotypical/able-bodied people can be really uncomfortable talking about disability because of stigma. They can prefer to eschew from the topic entirely (leading to awkward interactions – for the disabled reader, it’s not you). Giving instructors extreme clarity in what it is you need from them might help them navigate talking about disability better. It gives them the chance to ask questions about what they can do better – such as using a microphone at a certain volume or orienting their bodies a specific way to best speak. This also shows that disabled people can have agency in advocating for themselves – something a lot of able-bodied and neurotypical people have a hard time grasping (we don’t need to be on the extremes of either being entirely marginalized or overly coddled). (Needing a high level of support, such as a caretaker, is different from coddling in this context. I think what I’m talking about here is disabled people being oppressed under the guise of being ‘protected.’)
“This can help you, and the students after you who may need the same things*. This doesn’t mean that you need to teach them everything about disability or disclose anything you don’t feel comfortable sharing. That’s not your job. The point is you shouldn’t suffer academically because you fear an unpleasant experience. Most faculty appreciate the opportunity to do better in accommodating students. Remember, they have a lawful duty as instructors to accommodate you if you have documentation. Your job is to learn. Their job is to help you learn. This doesn’t undercut the fact that unpleasant experiences can happen. They can and they do. The point is that if they happen, it should be addressed because it calls attention to an urgent problem the instructors, department, and university must address. You have a team of advocates you can look towards during traumatic experiences to hold people accountable. This can be groups on campus, your disability advisor, your TA, etc.
*However, you aren’t responsible for the wellbeing of generations of students after you. Choosing not to go this route is perfectly OK.”
Other sources of support besides your professor
“Teaching assistants (TAs) and teaching fellows. Professors do formally receive accommodation requests – but teaching assistants and fellows can also be made aware (if the student is comfortable) about these accommodations since they’re more likely the ones doing the grading and teaching outside of lectures. This may also be a more personable route as TA’s may have more time with their students than professors do. TA’s can be your advocates in the class. usually, this is the person for the specific department the class is in. So if it’s art class, there’s probably a student services manager for the fine arts department…) Student services is an ideal resource in case you want to talk to someone who can talk to the course instructors on your behalf and you’d like to be a little bit removed from the conversation. But just as a heads up, this will not be confidential.
The ombuds (government appointed officials whose job it is to investigate complaints related to all sorts of things, including disability rights violations). This resource is more about misconduct rather than accessibility, and it is confidential.
And of course, the disability office.”
Social scripts: Emailing a professor about accommodations
This is a template you can use to send your professors your accommodations letter. As stated above, you don’t need to tell professors anything about your disability, unless you want to. You also don’t need to apologize; you have a right to your accommodations.
Write one email per professor, not a mass email. This is a place where you totally can plagiarize. However, you may want to modify a couple parts, unless your name is Grace Gonzalez, your professor is Dr. Crocodial, and you’re in the Monday/Wednesday section of Crocodile Studies 101 – in which case, good for you.
Subject line: Crocodile Studies 101 academic accommodations
Dear Professor Crocodial,
Hello, my name is Grace Gonzalez. I’m a student in the Monday/Wednesday section of Crocodile Studies 101. I wanted to let you know about my academic accommodations, which include testing accommodations, assignment extensions, and permission to audio record classes. I’ve attached my letter from the Disability Services Office, which explains these accommodations more thoroughly. I’m happy to meet in person to answer any questions you might have, and I am looking forward to meeting you next week.
And then don’t forget to attach the PDF!
Subject line: Applied Zoology 54 academic accommodations
Dear Professor Frosch,
I hope your semester is off to a good start. My name is Logan Swamp, and I am enrolled in your Applied Zoology 54 course.
I have accommodations for class participation and exams. Specifically, I am allowed to participate in discussion sections using text-to-speech assistive technology, or by emailing the instructor a written reflection after class instead of speaking. I also have 150% time on exams, which I am allowed to take in a reduced distraction environment. I’ve attached my letter from the Disability Services Office, which describes these accommodations. I will make sure to contact you before the midterm and final exams to coordinate. Please let me know if you have any questions about these accommodations and if I should come talk to you during office hours.
Thank you for your help.
Don’t forget to attach the attachment!
Social Scripts: Talking to a Professor In Person About Accommodations
Professor Crocodial has asked that Grace come to office hours so that they can discuss her accommodations. This is the first time that Grace is meeting Professor Crocodial personally, as the class has over 300 students (crocodile studies are very popular these days…). In addition to the biweekly lectures by Professor Crocodial, Grace is in a discussion section led by a teaching assistant (TA) named Jasper.
Grace knocks on the door. Professor Crocodial looks up from her desk.
Professor Crocodial: Good morning.
Grace: Good morning. I’m Grace.
Professor Crocodial, pointing at a chair by her desk: Come on in. It’s nice to meet you.
Grace, walking in and sitting down: Nice to meet you, too.
Professor Crocodial: So I got your accommodations letter – thanks for sending that – and I had a couple questions. Let me just find the file –
Professor Crocodial types something on her computer. Grace opens her notebook and takes out her own copy of the accommodations letter.
Professor Crocodial: Okay, I’ve got it. So it looks like you have testing accommodations, assignment extensions, and audio-recording.
Grace: Yes, that’s right.
Professor Crocodial: So we really only have two exams, the midterm and the final. What I usually do is reserve a room for all the students with accommodations, and then you’ll be allowed to use your earplugs and a calculator.
Grace: And I have double the allotted time, right?
Professor Crocodial: Yes. That should be pretty simple – does all that sound good to you?
Grace: I think so. Is there anything I should do before the exams, like, should I email you to confirm?
Professor Crocodial: You don’t need to. There are a decent number of students with accommodations, so I’ll make the announcement in class about where to go. But of course, if you have any questions, you’re always welcome to come to office hours.
Grace: Okay, that makes sense.
Professor Crocodial: And I see you also have assignment extensions. This is a little tricky because the final is going to be a group project, a paper, so I can’t change the deadline for that.
Grace: How about for the other assignments, the readings and the short essay, right?
Professor Crocodial: Those should be fine. I’ll just ask that you talk to your TA, because they’re the ones who’ll be grading, and that way, they’ll know not to mark you down.
Grace writes in her notebook: “email TA about croc101 accommodations.”
Grace: I think that if I have extensions on all the other assignments, the final project will be okay, but maybe I can talk to my disability advisor to see if he has any suggestions?
Professor Crocodial: Yes, why don’t you go ahead and do that. I’m sure we can figure out something that works for everyone – I just can’t give your whole group an extension.
Grace: I understand. I’ll talk to him and follow up with you.
Graces writes in her notebook: “ask disability advisor about accommodation for croc101 final group project.”
Professor Crocodial: Great. And there’s no rush on that one, since it won’t be till the end of the semester. Then the last thing I wanted to discuss is that you have permission to audio-record lectures, which is fine, but there might be times in your discussion section where students are sharing more personal information, so your TA would ask you to turn it off then.
Grace: Okay. But the rest of the time, it’s okay?
Professor Crocodial: Yes, that’s fine.
Grace: Thank you for clarifying. Is there anything else you wanted to go over?
Professor Crocodial: No, I think we covered everything. Do you have any questions for me?
Grace: I don’t think so. Thank you for taking the time to talk.
As Grace says this, she puts her notebook in her backpack and rises from the chair. This is an I’m-leaving-so-you-can-say-goodbye-to-me-now social cue.
Professor Crocodial: Of course. Take care.